Haiku Walking

An early start for the second of my Create Ireland mindfulness haiky walks on the Cavan Burren. This particular group came from the Education Centre at the local low security prison.  I love working with these guys and it is always a privilege. The Cavan Burren offers megaliths, upland landscape and woodland where rock art and remains of nelolithic living can be seen. It has a very special presence. And while it is a specially earned opportunity, it also challenges guys who are used to a foreshortened viewpoint. Up by the Tullygubban Wedge Tomb they could look out and count six counties. They could look down on their own residence over looking Lough MacNean where ancient people left remains of shellfish feasts. Some city dwellers have only ever experienced concrete. This was wilderness to some Dubs amongst us. 

And then how do you handle presence and silence when you have been living in a perpetually noisy environment? That, too, is a challenge. For then the chatter in the mind gets louder sometimes. Which is where mindfulness meditation can come in handy.  

Haiku can help focus on a moment – a pause, a revelation – and then share that connection. So many offenders in prison have some element of addiction that contributed to their landing there. Studies in Portugal have posited that the opposite of addiction is connection. Connection is the business of poetry. Which is why I am in there pitching poetry writing  for the past four years. I hope the lads have got as much out of it as I have received. 

Two haiku from today’s foray:

In the woods – the wind

Ruffling spruce needles whoosh.

And. What’s that? Silence

Coming down Mollie’s Brae

A rainbow: my wish

A way to be free

On Brooklyn Bridge

Last thing at night I made up my mind to write a sonnet. This was no easy option. I’ve tried and failed many times to write sonnets. I think I probably completed on for NaPoWriMo, just because I was bloody-minded and said I would complete each post’s challenge. But given the option of rhyming couplet or odes, it was looking more attractive.  This did not, however, stop me from indulging in lots of displacement activity this morning. I had a burning need to know whodunit and complete reading Sophie Hannah’s latest Hercule Poirot novel. (Incidentally, she began her writing career while still at Cambridge with a volume of villanelles.)  Then I also had errands to carry out., the compost bin to rearrange, the dog walked. THEN, I urgently needed to mop floors because we have guests arriving tomorrow evening.

But a sonnet it is for today’s poetry practice. It has been committed.

On Brooklyn Bridge

 

As I stand on Brookyn Bridge and looking

out to Lady Liberty beyond, and muse

to self how that sight felt to ancestors

who passed Her gaze and beheld this thing

arising so huge and full of portent,

which rhymed with heart and mind. That as may be.

That symbol would change their tongue and accent.

What losses paid for aspired to Beauty?

Those empty eyes. That light so high aloft

would only blink at passing ships at night.

Too feeble to make it safe to harbour,

to puncture venal desires, curing vices,

or elevate, or conform to higher choices.

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018

Elegy

I am exploring various poetry forms this week that I would not normally practice. Having warmed up with a month of poetry etudes I am pushing myself to try the previously less tested ways of expressing a poem. I do believe I must have had a bash at an elegy at some stage during the past two years of NaPoWriMo, but I honestly cannot remember that effort. The death of a friend’s father at age 91 prompted me to consider that generation that is swiftly passing from us. Both my mother, mother-in-law, beloved aunt and paternal uncles all saw their 90th birthdays and beyond. They lived in interesting times, growing up in either the Great Depression, World War II, and the extreme austerity of post-war reconstruction.

So this elegy was written with Bill in mind, who as a child witnessed the demotion of the city of Coventry in a fire storm, as much as my mother, who was medical support staff in the U.S. Coast Guard, or my in-laws who survived blitz and the North Africa campaign in the service of the RAF’s Air Sea Rescue. They did live to a brave age, as we say in Ireland, but they also lived in an age that made them have to be brave.

 

A Brave Age

 

Sorry for your loss, then,

He was a brave age, or

She lived to a brave age,

that making of old bones.

 

They lived in a brave age.

Greatest generation,

fighting, forging freedom,

having a ringside seat

 

to RAF and Luftwaffe

nights of mass destruction,

either in a cockpit

or crouched in bomb shelter.

 

They all knew the gnawing,

collateral damage

in years of aftermath.

Do the arithmetic.

 

Age 90 they achieve

near 33 thousand

days on earth, breathed, lived,

seen, done, been unconquered

 

despite hairline fractures,

bowed spines, fading hearing,

cataracts. Then the falls

that carry them all off.

 

The effort needed to care –

about bills, birthdays, the

ephemera of life

all slip under the door

 

like a bad ransom note

from those they knew when young

when no one was young but

their self. Memory,

 

the synapses fizzle,

static on the line, then

losing the connection.

So maddening.

 

Then the final falling

away –onto the floor,

into the outback of

consciousness.

 

The medical notes say:

Do no resuscitate.

Let those hallowed old bones

take flight.

 

rest

now

in

peace

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018

Dancing with a Dressmaker’s Dummy

Another day and another challenge to try a poetry form previously spurned. And today’s poem is a pantoum, which also uses an end rhyming scheme of which I have written previously that it is not a natural fit.  But if you are running in a poetry marathon who says you can expect comfort? And this does begin to feel as if poetry practice is morphing into something else.

Dancing with the Dressmaker’s Dummy

 

Dance with the dressmaker’s dummy.

but take care of tissue thin pattern.

Those tiny pins tend to draw blood.

Resisting pain is perhaps pointless.

 

Nor to be rigid as Saturn.

Find grace, your hands delicately placed,

to make your waltz turn deliquesce.

That takes practice, patience, and some pluck.

 

This may not suit makers in haste.

Appraise the quality of fabric.

Also – a dummy is a eunuch,

a salient point to remember.

 

It feels like a bag of bardic tricks

dancing with this dressmaker’s dummy –

selvage, binding, drape, hang, cut, shirr-

but tiny pins tend to draw blood.

 

Copyright © 2018 Bee Smith

 

Featured image

Photo by Ab on Unsplash

Sea of Clouds

On the 15th of September I began this run of poetry practice, writing a poem a day and posting it within that twenty-four hour period.  I have done a month of poem a day before for NaPoWriMo (or GloPoWriMo if you live outside the USA), but today marks a new development as I step into Month 2 of a poem a day writing practice.

I decided to set myself a challenge. To the best of my knowledge I have never tackled a sestina before. This poetry form does not end rhyme (not my natural forté), but is syllabic. A sestina is thirty-nine lines long, made of six stanzas of six lines, capped with a final tercet. There is a recurring motif of a stanza’s final word being repeated at the end of the following stanza’s first line.

We have a friend that Tony used to work for at The Organic Centre who started up the Irish Cloud Appreciation Society. This could be dedicated to Hans. Both of us were oohing and aahing as we drove home from doing life laundry tasks over in Fermanagh earlier today.

Sea of clouds

 

Swan’s down swirling, cloud tuille-thin letting in

sunshine and out and through, scudding puttputtputt,

a puffpuffpuffy streamer circles, forms

a blue lagoon above the horizon.

Around Cuilcagh Mountain cloud crannogs sit,

very prim, very pretty, declaring

 

themselves autonomous, declaring

independence, with the pride worn by

surplus womanhood. Here we stand. And sit.

It is our sky, too. Cloud republics.

We are no satellite states, dutybound.

Nor will we be vassals of Father Sky.

 

If neither church nor canvas, this wide sky

is consort to, covering Mother Earth.

Where the green and grey and blue reflection

shimmers it meets ocean at horizon.

And there dissolve into mist, rain, whiteness.

Meanwhile, wisps flick like willow angels,

 

those fairy fleece ones as treetop angels

at Christmas when sky is low and stern

as Saturn, Chronos as sad Santa sack.

We need to believe in angels. Perhaps

the clouds really are auguries, beings

sweeping across, fleet flying to save us.

 

For we misstep and mess up, all of us.

So much they allot us all guardians

to stem the self-harm, sorrow, misery,

until even agnostics live in hope.

For surely that is blue sky thinking’s brand,

with its islands, lagoons, dragon boats.

 

For sure we put out to sky like sea boats,

set off in St. Brendan’s coracle

on peregrinations out past Corry,

where the wind turbines currently wear a

Magritte styled hat, wool stolen from Jason,

winter beanies braving stiff –fingered gales.

 

 

Up the barrage balloons! Take to the life boats!

Send signals for the souls of all of us.

Save our souls, o ye band of angels!

 

Copyright © 2018 Bee Smith

 

Featured image

Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

Haiku to a Quieter Mind

I am prepping for a workshop later this week which combines a walk in a Geopark forest with mindfulness and haiku writing. Synchronously, a friend pointed me to a website that is  running online haiku courses to override negative thinking. While I am not sure that haiku writing can achieve that, what I do know is that because it is grounded in the present moment it is similar to mindfulness meditation. While it may not completely quiet a mind, I do think a regular practice of writing haiku or senryu may help the mental chatter and static recede. Nor am I persuaded that it is constructive to label any of our thoughts as ‘bad.’ It is what we do with our thoughts – whether they harm ourselves or others – when put into action that is more to the point. Mindfulness meditation helps us enter into a space where we witness our thoughts and let them go. Or,alternatively, they can be put to paper.

Haiku is traditionally nature based and is no more than seventeen syllables long. Senryu is also seventeen syllables long, but takes human behaviour, often human foibles, as its inspiration. Either, being grounded in a moment of perception and realisation, ground our witness consciousness using this abbreviated format. It may not calm you, but I do believe it helps centre even the most restless and anxious mind.

Today’s poetry practice is neither haiku or senryu, but a tanka. A tanka is a five line poem made up of a haiku with a capping two liner made up of fourteen syllables. Traditionally, the Japanese use a format of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables. I have kept the syllabic count, but arranged it to make sense as an English language speaker.

Leaf frost

Golden sun crowning Paddy’s hill

The day is in right order

Light spreads over our townland

The world is in right order

How to Build an Ecosystem

It is strange how one thought tangentially interconnects with something quite other during poetry practice. Today’s poetry practice considers ecosystems, both the biological and more metaphorical complex networks that connect everything to all. But once I had been writing about ecosystems it conjured up the New York World’s Fair of 1964/65. I was eight years old when my family visited it. We road a hushed, slow conveyor belt past Michelangelo’s Pieta. I saw the animatronics heralded on Sunday night’s Disney TV program for real in It’s a Small World. I fell in love with foreign lands and acquired several dolls for my collection. But I also remember the Unisphere, which was supposed to symbolically link the earth with the new Space Age – global, universal, cosmological – along with the Fair’s celebration of consumer items. That’s a different kind of complex interconnected system to consider for another day perhaps. 

How to Build an Ecosystem

Consider my neighbour down the lane in Corrahoash,

the beekeeper collecting his ton of honey,

his bees bombalong the lane pollinating

corn, peas, our apple trees;

my husband who harvests them,

his kitchen witch wife who magics a meal,

the smith who fashioned our forks,

the potter who created our plates,

the builder who made the dining table and chairs,

the lumber jack or jill who felled the tree,

the sawyer who planed it to timber, but

remembered to leave some logs

for the mushrooms to stake their place,

snaking their secret network in underground space.

Do not ever underestimate

the unconditional love of dogs,

or the necessity and co-dependence

of cats and mice, spiders and flies.

This great talented orchestration-

concert, chorus, solos-

making the music of the unisphere.

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith